Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Call of the Wild: Review

The Call of the Wild by Jack London is one of those books that I always thought I'd read.  Until I sat down with it and realized, No, Bev, you haven't.  You've had it on the shelf. You've absorbed all the cultural knowledge floating around out there about the book.  But you haven't actually read it. What you read was Kavik the Wolf Dog--a marvelous story, by the way--but not Call of the Wild.  So, now I have.  Really--I'm going to write a review to prove it.  

The story is set during the Klondike Gold Rush, a time when it seemed every Tom, Dick, and Harry was going off to make his fortune in the cold snowy gold field country and Tom, Dick, and Harry were needing strong teams of sled dogs to get them there and to carry mail and supplies between gold rush towns.  

We're introduced to Buck, a large domestic dog who is a cross between a Saint Bernard and a Scotch shepherd.  Buck has spent his life thus far on a California ranch--an outdoor dog, but not a work dog.  He spends his time hunting with his owner's sons, swimming in tank where the boys take their morning plunge, and escorting the daughters of the house on their walks.  Buck is suddenly taken from his cozy, domestic life when one of the ranch hands, a gambler by nature, sells Buck to men headed to the Klondike--just to meet his current debts.

Buck soon learns that life as an Alaskan sled dog has nothing to do with the sunny life in California.  He has to fight for his food, figure out how make a den in the snow to keep warm at night, and he has to learn the law of club and fang.  The club in a man's hand shows him who is boss over canines and the fang of his sled team leader shows him which dog must be least until Buck learns the ways of the sled and trail and can fight back.  When an inexperienced threesome buy Buck and his sled team mates and all but destroy the team through overwork and underfeeding, only the interference of a man named John Thornton prevents Buck from an early death.

The entire time Buck is in Alaska he feels the pull of the wild; he hears his dog ancestors calling him back to a more primitive time.  He learns to love Thornton, but will his loyalty to the man who saved his life keep him from answer the call he hears coming from the forests?

This is a grand adventure novel--told most interestingly from the point of view of Buck.  Lots of bracing exploits in the harsh outdoors and Jack London is a fine descriptive writer.  My only complaint is the overuse of the "Buck looks back through time to the days of his ancestors" motif.  The mystical staring into the fire and seeing primitive man thing is fine as a one-off, but it doesn't really do much to reinforce the call of the wild.  The descriptions of Buck's adventures in the wild do more in that vein and much more realistically.  Four stars.


BooksPlease said...

Bev, I thought I'd read this too - until I read your post. This is a book that my mum had and so it's been there on bookshelves all my life!! I had to find it - I hadn't listed it on Goodreads or LibraryThing and I began to think I'd imagined it, but when I looked on my 'old books we've had for ever' shelf there it was. I just have to read it soon.

J F Norris said...

I love that opening paragraph of your review. Imagine confusing Buck with Kavik. Made me smile. I did read this -- in junior high! -- as part of our assigned reading in an advanced English class. And I remember it being one of the first adult books that opened up the world of adventure to me. Glad you finally caught up with the rest of us Jack London veterans. ;^)

Bev Hankins said...

I am a little slow sometimes, John. :-)

JaneGS said...

This was one of the first audio books I listened to when I started adding audio to my reading life, and I really liked the book, though I remember having a similar reaction to Buck's collective unconscious. A little of that goes a long way.

I've been wanting to read more Jack London--maybe I'll look for some short stories.